Sunday, December 28, 2008

Belated Gifts

After several attempts, we managed to link up with Steffen this afternoon. He had persisted about calling Walker trying to make a date to go to a movie and exchange gifts. Walker was not feeling particularly generous this year and had only bought Steffen one of those musical cards. I added a gift card for movies and a little cash to it.

Steffen had bought Walker two movies from his limited income, but Walker was a bit less than gracious about them. They weren’t on his wish list. Of course this became a teaching opportunity on how to show appreciation on the way home.

As I drove them to the movie I asked Steffen about his family and found out that he had had no contact from his mother since about a week before Christmas, and that his sister “ran out of time and didn’t make it” to see him either. I believe he spent Christmas alone and didn’t get a gift from either. “It’s okay, ‘cause I have enough money to buy little things anyway,” he explained to me.

After the movie we talked a bit more about Christmas and he pointed out that a couple of years ago his mother had taught him to be grateful he had a roof over his head. He had remembered that comment this year when he was tempted to feel sorry for himself. One of his friends was having trouble finding a place to live because she’s schizophrenic and at least he had a roof over his head.

I wish I had gotten Steffan a real gift and made sure he had it on Christmas Day. It probably would have meant more to me than to him, and it wouldn’t have made his mother’s ignoring him hurt any less, but I would have felt less guilty when I heard his story. I’m glad I made the effort to take him to a movie and plan to do it more often this year.

I’m going to be glad I have a roof over my head next time I’m feeling sorry for myself too.


Friday, December 26, 2008

The Day After Gift

Christmas, like no other holiday sets up up for so much joy, or for so much room to be disappointed. There are almost always high points and low points, hopefully more of the former than the latter. This one was no exception.

Walker has generally been the easiest of my children to shop for. His list was ever expanding and negotiable, and with few exceptions, I could buy a huge pile of plastic stuff half price on Christmas Eve and he always seemed happy with whatever Santa brought. Except this year.

Walker's journey down memory lane into his childhood has had me searching on Ebay for toys that I probably threw away or sold for fifty cents in a garage sale many years ago. The only affordable “collectible” I could find in what seemed like mint condition for a toy from 1984 was a Ghostbusters Ghost Zapper. It is essentially like a flashlight with a disc that projects pictures of six ghosts on the wall of a darkened room.

When the Ghost Zapper arrived, I was pleasantly surprised at the good condition of the original box, essential to the quadruple value I had paid for the thing. The ad on Ebay had made no mention of any parts missing. You Ebay buyers and sellers out there probably know that the description of the item is a serious thing. You have to read every word, check the ratings of the seller, etc. Sellers generally describe every possible defect to avoid returns or the ever dreaded negative rating.

Walker opened his package on Christmas Eve, and was initially delighted. But a minute later, he said, “Didn’t it come with stickers?” As per the first item in the instructions, he was looking for the Ghostbusters logo decals to apply them. We looked through all the packaging materials, and indeed there were no stickers. “It’ll be okay,” he assured me. He hates to see his mama upset about anything as much as any kid I’ve ever seen. We moved on to other gifts, but the Ghostblaster was his main gift, and was ever so slightly tainted.

I wrote to the seller, who offered a small refund, which I refused and let him have a lesson on how to write a description. He offered a mild apology, but there was no way to make it right, or so I thought.

This morning, Walker proudly showed his new toy to his speech therapist, carefully enunciating “Ghostbusters” with his recently acquired “r” sound, and as I darkened the room, he demonstrated for us how it worked.

That was when I noticed that the toy now had stickers on the side and commented. A closer look revealed that they were scotch taped on. “Where did you get those,” I questioned, surprised and kind of pleased. At least I was until he told me had cut the box up to get the symbols. I guess it is okay. He’s happy, which was the whole point of the gift, and I’m not likely to auction his toy off anytime soon, but damn I wish I’d bought one without the box, but with the stickers for half the price.

I’m thankful for my inventive little guy who found a way to make his gift all that he dreamed it would be. I hope I always remember that happiness is what you make it.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Seven Pounds of Giving

In spite of the fact that Sarah Jane had discouraged our doing so, Walker and I took a small group of close friends to see the movie Seven Pounds Friday night, mainly because she has one small but nicely done scene in it.

We all liked the movie just fine, although some of us found the story line a bit confusing and sometimes tedious, and all of us wished we had seen more of Sarah.

What I keep thinking about, though, is the Will Smith character, Ben, and the message he conveyed to the audience about organ donation.

My whole family is strongly in favor of increasing organ donation, especially after going through a living donation from my son-in-law, John, that saved our oldest grandson’s life. (For more about this go to my July and August posts.)

Having Will Smith make a movie about the good that can be done, especially among minority populations, by becoming an organ donor is like having a two hour public service announcement on the subject. The only difference is that we paid eight bucks for our seats instead of getting it for free on late night weekend television.

Some of the issues raised during his decision making process bothered me though. This movie had too much of one man playing God to suit me. Ben, who was obviously suicidal from the early scenes forward, carefully interviewed his prospective recipients and if they weren’t “good” people, he rejected them. Kind of like Santa, making his list and checking it twice crossing off all the naughty boys and girls.

Yes, there is a shortage of organ donors, especially for the big organs like hearts and lungs and livers that people tend to need to hang on to for their own use. It was really nice that the point was made that a living donor can donate a portion of his liver and live a healthy life.

It’s difficult for most of us to deal with the idea of a transplant list and who gets on it and when without really deciding whether they are truly going to appreciate the Gift of Life or perhaps waste it. I don’t think Ben was truly endowed with the kind of wisdom reserved only for God and the fancy computerized list that decides these things. No one man ever could be.
I hope you go see the movie and spot Sarah Jane Morris in a scene in a coffee shop with Woody Harrelson about halfway through the movie. (Don't blink or you'll miss it!) I hope you all sign your donor cards and let God do the deciding for you when the time comes.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Did You Know?

Do any of us?

I frequently check the blog of a friend who was my priest, co-worker, advisor and friend for many years. Jerry’s most recent post recalled a song that we often hear this time of year. “Mary Did You Know?” I’m not sure when it was written, but if you’d like a great rendition of it go to

No, I never knew I’d be recommending a gospel disco network, but I am. Surprise!

If you have time, stop right now and listen to it before you go any further.

I for one, know I never knew. I never knew that I’d sit in the audience with my heart thumping when the strains of the Overture to The Nutcaracker started waiting on my daughter to star as Clara. I never knew I’d be priviledged to witness my first grandchild’s birth and my daddy’s last breath in the same year. Both were miraculous experiences. I never imagined being the mother of three wonderful daughters and one very special son. I never knew the joy or the heartache that would be involved in each at one time or another.

For those of us who have endured God’s surprises in our lives, sometimes happily, sometimes with deep grief, we have discovered that we can really never know. We never know what’s coming next or in what order or time frame. I’ll admit, that’s a real frustration for those of us who really don’t like thrill rides or surprises, but it’s just the way things are.

I’ve known parents whose children were diagnosed with mental illness in their teens, parents of newborns with various disabilities, including some that were heart wrenchingly fatal. I’ve sat in the ICU with a mother whose boyfriend caused permanent brain damage to her toddler. I’ve commiserated with relatives about their typical children’s grades and social problems. I’ve also known parents of absolute super stars in one field or another, and they never knew what to expect next either. What they all eventually discovered was that somewhere within them was the strength to make it through whatever happens with the help of their friends and family and faith.

Some days I wish I didn’t know quite so much. I’m hoping that I’ll someday learn to like surprises and thrill rides more, because I know the next turn is just ahead and it can be exciting.


To read Jerry Harber’s blog go to

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Did You Know?

I frequently check the blog of Jerry Harber, a friend who was my pastor, co-worker, and advisor for many years. He has an ability to touch me spiritually, and that has been especially true of his Advent posts. If you’d like to read them go to I assure you you’ll find something to think about.

Jerry’s most recent post recalled a song that we often hear this time of year. “Mary Did You Know?” I’m not sure when it was written, but if you’d like a great rendition of it go to

No, I never knew I’d be recommending a gospel disco network, but I am. Surprise!

This song, and Jerry’s thoughts have taken me back to Sarah Palin, (remember her!) who did know, at least as much as any of us ever do, what she was to expect before her youngest son was born. She knew, and she knew in a very public forum, and she knew that she could be a good mother to him, and I’ll bet she is. Not getting to be Vice President may have come as a surprise to her, but to her credit, she handled that with the same grace she has shown through her adjustment to being a member of that fraternity that none of us wants to join, the parents of children with special needs.

For those of us who have endured God’s surprises in our lives, sometimes happily, sometimes with deep grief, we have discovered what we really never know. We never know what’s coming next or in what order. That’s a real frustration for those of us who really don’t like thrill rides or surprises.

I’ve known parents whose children were diagnosed with mental illness in their teens, parents of newborns with various disabilities, including some that were heart wrenchingly fatal, and parents of absolute super stars in one field or another. I’ve sat in the ICU with a mother whose boyfriend caused permanent brain damage to her toddler. I’ve commiserated with relatives about their children’s grades and social problems. What they all eventually discovered was that somewhere within them was the strength to make it through whatever it was with the help of their friends and relatives and their faith in some higher power.

Some days I wish I didn’t know quite so much or knew a bit more. I’m hoping that I’m learning to like surprises and thrill rides more, because I know the next turn is just ahead. What I do know, though, is that every time one of us reaches out to another, we really do kiss the face of God. That’s just the way it works.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Real Gift

Walker III usually puts my favorite Amy Grant Christmas CD in the car player right after Thanksgiving, but he hadn’t done it this year.

When I looked for it in the drawer with my limited collection of favorite CDs, it wasn’t there. So, I got out a John Denver instead. (He’s one of my favorites too, and I had the honor of singing in a Junior High School Choral production with him in 1958 or ‘59. He got a solo. I did not.)

When Walker came down ready for work, I asked him to load the John Denver, and whether he had seen the Amy Grant. He admitted that he had taken it to his room, but offered to go get it. We were running tight on time, so I told him it was fine, not to worry, and we rode along belting out Christmas songs with John. The next day when I cranked up my car, Amy was back in business, and I’ll probably play her until Christmas Day, mainly because I can sing along with her better than John.

I offered to let Walker have Amy back, but he told me that he saw a new collection of her greatest hits at Target, and plans to buy it if it’s not too expensive when he and Theresa go out on Friday. He is finally free to spend his money on himself again now that his Christmas gifts are bought and wrapped. (Okay, I confess…I let him shop in my gift closet for a few too.)

If the CD is too expensive, I’ll probably buy it for him anyway, in appreciation for him remembering to return mine without having to be reminded. That’s one of my favorite things about him right now, not having to be reminded, and it’s the real gift he gives me most every day. He even reminds me when necessary, which seems to become an ever more important gift every day.


Monday, December 15, 2008

My Magical Moon Gift

Thursday night I got the duty of picking Walker up after work. It had been kind of rainy and really frigid for several days, but the air was crisp and clean again.

Just as I pulled out of my driveway, I noticed a sight I’ve never seen before, a halo around the moon. The neighbor across the street had just turned on her Christmas lights, and there were no apparent stars in the sky, just this amazing moon with what looked like a rainbow around it and the lights from her tree and wreaths. It was one of the loveliest vignettes ever. A beautiful gift, free for the enjoying.

At first, I thought what I was seeing had something to do with the car windshield, but as I turned south, I looked out of the driver’s side window, and it was still there. There was no traffic, so I pulled over and rolled down my window to make sure what I saw was real. It definitely was. By the time we got back home, the halo had kind of faded, but when I pointed it out to Walker he definitely saw it too. “Angelic,” he commented. It was.

Walker jumped right into a conversation of how my mother and Daddy and Walker’s parents will celebrate their birthdays in heaven this month. It seems to be really important to him to know that things he loves will be in the afterlife. I wonder if his guardian angel on e-bay will be able to find the things he wants for a reasonable price. Will she have a Pay Pal account? Will it withdraw from my account? Oh well, they’ll work it out, I’ m sure.

I sent a quick note to some of my neighbors not to miss it, called my husband to see if the same effect was being seen in Alabama, but my delight in the sight was blunted by the fact that I didn’t really have anyone else to share my excitement. Then last night John and Becket came by with their parents, and phenomena reappeared. All are nature geeks to a greater or lesser degree. They at least pretended some excitement, but probably tuned out my lecture about how the ice crystals make the moon look that way. They lingered long enough to admire before we settled down to Chrismas cookies and a little wrapping on the side. I was delighted to have someone to share and appreciate and pass on the word.

My best friend Google led me to several sites with photos of a moon halo for further information. None of them did justice to the one I saw, which showed more prism like colors on the outer edges, but here’s a link to one that’s close. Check it out.
Maybe you’ll see an angelic moon someday. I hope so.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Another Gift from Jane

Okay, just chalk me up as a nut case. Blame it on recent anesthesia, but this story is absolutely true, and I can’t bear not to share it.

After I wrote about Jane’s ornaments last night, and we put the last of the ornaments and finally my favorite baby's breath on the tree, I thought I was done. I had already decided to just do as much decorating as my energy allowed this year and not to worry about putting every single thing we own out on display...there's just too much. My practical side told me that I’d only have to put away all the stuff again in a couple of weeks, so it wasn’t worth it.

This morning, I got a bonus spurt of energy and began to unload another tub that I thought just had some Christmas pillows (easy enough to toss around and be done with it), but underneath the pillows, wrapped in crumpled tissue was a layer of ornaments in flimsy cardboard dividers. As I unloaded them and tried to find a spot on the already loaded tree for a few more favorites, I found another of Jane’s ornaments.

This one was painted in 1972, carefully signed and dated on the back. It’s a little red headed angel boy. I started to put it on the tree, then…I just couldn’t. I think, cross my fingers, that I managed to scan it so I can include it on my blog. (That picture is the actual ornament, not clip art!) Then I hung it from the cabinet knob above my desk.

I’m going to share it with you and ask each of you to stop and say a prayer for Geoffrey, another red headed angel, his parents and grandparents and all the others who loved him. I did and I will.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Gift of Giving

Is there any better feeling this time of year than driving up to your house on a cold dreary night and seeing your Christmas tree winking at you through the front windows? Maybe, but tonight I can’t think of one.

Walker and his dad got the tree up mostly without me. Even better, they did it on their own without complaining. Dad did the assembling and Walker provided the Christmas music which he always has cranked up beginning the weekend after Thanksgiving. I eventually did my share of the ornaments because I love them so. Some years we draft the rest of the family to help, mainly so I can re-tell the stories of the ornaments, but this year we just did them ourselves.

About ninety percent of my ornaments have some sort of story.

I remember one year when it seemed like my ornaments had an almost magical power over me. As I was hanging the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat that one of my sewing students had painted for me many years before, I felt absolutely compelled to call Jane to tell her how much I still loved them. When I asked her how she had been, she replied, “Well, I’m dying.”

A few days later, I did what every good friend should do for those she cares about, I baked a pound cake and took it to her. Jane answered the door looking like she stepped out of Talbot's catalog in cute red plaid slacks and a turtleneck and a Christmas sweater, but it was obvious that she was quite ill. “Is there anything at all that I can do for you or your family?” I asked hopefully.

“Well, there is one thing, if you wouldn’t mind.... You may know… Amy is pregnant. I’d like to mend some of her baby clothes you helped me make and get them ready for the baby. I don't have time or energy to make new ones. Will you help me?”

Jane gave me the opportunity to give to her. As I re-attached lace and covered a couple of pinholes with bullion roses, I knew I was giving her grandchild something that she could not. What a precious gift.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gifts and Presents

This year several days before my birthday I received a totally unexpected package from one of my nieces. I sent her a short e-mail letting her know that her present had arrived and that I would save it till my birthday to open. She replied with a comment that it wasn't a present, but a gift, causing me to seek more information on the difference. When I had no luck with my faithful pal Google, I wrote Rebecca again, this time asking for an explanation. I can't seem to find it right now, but it defined the difference very clearly.

A present is when someone gives you something you have asked for or put on a list. Perhaps the person is on your list from some long time connection or custom and you feel that you must come up with some sort of rememberance, whether it's the exact right thing or not. You buy it, then you "present" it.

On the other hand, a gift is usually something totally unexpected that the giver knows will please and delight you. There are no strings attached, and there is no expectation of anything in return--not even a thank you. You just give it.

Either a gift or a present is an act of love, but gifts are truly special. I think I'm going to give a lot of presents this year, but I want to also give a few gifts. I hope you do too.


Monday, December 1, 2008


I've struggled with words for the past few weeks, feeling like anything I had to say was simply inadequate. I have managed to send thank you notes to most of those who have been so kind to me, but I know in my heart they were crude expressions of much deeper feelings. I'm hoping this is a temporary condition, but who knows.

There are thoughts of thanks that didn’t even manage to turn themselves into words that made sense as we gathered on Thursday, the one day a year when we stop to give Thanks. As our family and inlaws and outlaws stood in a large circle in my den holding hands I almost spoke, but then we followed our usual custom of having the children sing.

“God our Father. God our Father. Once again, Once again. We will ask your blessing. We will ask your blessing. Ah Ah men. Ah Ah men”

My ever observant son in law, John, saw my tears before I wiped them and teased me…of course…That’s his job around here. Everyone else politely ignored them and went about serving The Best Thanksgiving Dinner Ever.

I hope my words return. I have so much to be thankful for.